hen Mark and Julie’s wedding rolled around, no one could remember how long they had been unhappy. While the blissful couple was being toasted and cheered, guests at the front tables whispered about the minefield between the grimacing groomsman and bored bridesmaid across the dining room.
The wedding was only the most recent in a string of disasters. That night, Sally slept on the loveseat in an elaborate origami of limbs and throw pillows, the emerald bridesmaid’s dress in a satiny pool underneath the cat. Tim rubbed his face and shuffled into the bedroom. He stubbed his toe on a box of shoes blocking the path to his side of the room. For a woman who was constantly on the verge of moving out, Sally occupied an absurd amount of space.
Tim sighed and sagged into bed. He kicked his shoes off against the closet door, leaving a black scuffmark on the white paint. His pants and shirt were tossed over the side of the bed; Sally had been wearing his jacket on the drive home; the cat was merrily rolling around the crumpled sleeves, leaving behind a trail of tabby fluff in his wake. The dry cleaners could revive the tuxedo in the morning. Tim studied the framed photos on the nightstand – the trip to Greece when Sally hid behind her favorite Hollywood-sized sunglasses; the New Year’s Eve party when she could taste the resentment in his midnight kiss. His favorite was the one he taped to the underside of his alarm clock. Sally’s 21st birthday dinner, her face lit up by a flock of candles; he swore that if he looked at the photo long enough, he could figure out what she wished for that year. In the decade since that photo was taken, he blew out his own candles wishing for a time machine to go back and make it all right.
The boxes still occupied the bedroom when Tim woke up the next morning. He had heard Sally fishing around for an outfit and squeezed his pillow around his head to block the noise. Vanilla steam seeped around the edges of the bathroom door. Sally emerged from her sugary shower and pounced on the bed, her hair dripping onto Tim’s bare shoulder. He could still catch the faintest boozy vapors in the cloud of perfume. She planted a row of tiny toothpaste kisses up his neck and along his jaw until she reached his lips, where she nibbled gently.
“Baby, wake up.” She cringed at the whiny intonation; it had sounded sexier, coyer, in her head.
Tim rolled over to face her but kept his eyes closed. He breathed in the soapy, alcoholic musk emanating from the warm, damp body next to him. Her freshness made him suddenly aware of his own morning scent; he swung himself out of bed and into the shower without a word.
Sally imagined him in the shower and slipped her fingers under her towel. She fidgeted until she felt something slippery, but was dismayed to find that it was only water. Abandoning the towel, she shimmied into the outfit she had laid out on the loveseat. In better times, she would have stayed in bed, glistening and naked, waiting for Tim. Their slick sex was dangerous and fun, like the yellow tarp Sally’s parents laid out on the lawn every summer, the neighborhood kids bellyflopping and skidding over the hosed-down plastic.
They did not speak over their coffee. Tim nudged Sally’s foot under the table; the corners of her mouth curled up slightly over the rim of her mug, but her eyes were focused on the bagel on her plate.
The clink of Tim’s mug against the tabletop broke the haze. Both of them snapped into focus and they stared at each other wide-eyed.
“So, about those boxes,” he started.
“Please leave them.” Sally wore her Yankee frigidity with intense pride.
Tim rubbed his thumb along a patch of the newspaper, smudging the ink and obscuring the day’s events. He had been leaving the classified ads lying around the apartment for Sally to find. He hoped she would start circling listings for new apartments. She often lined the cat’s litter box with those sections first.
Sally slurped her coffee loudly. She was done talking about her boxes. She liked the look and feel of transience. She had no real intention of leaving, but she liked knowing that if she changed her mind, her things were ready to go. As she leaned forward to clear the breakfast dishes, she twitched her shoulders just enough to jiggle her breasts while they were at Tim’s eye level. He was certain that he was just a few of these shakes away from biting through his lip.
ith the rented tuxedo draped over his arm, Tim leaned over Sally, who had migrated back to the love seat, and contemplated whether to kiss her before he went out. Her eyes flickered up at him briefly before returning to her book. He placed a hand atop her head and lightly stroked her hair. He felt charitable and decided to buy her flowers on the way home.
When she was sure he was far enough from home that she wouldn’t run into him, Sally snatched her purse from its hook in the hallway and took the bus downtown. She was feeling rich and decided to buy herself something special. A new lingerie shop caught her eye; she pulled the stop request cord and bounded to the sidewalk.
The shop was decked out in satin drapes laced with strings of pearls and velvet cords. The decorator’s attempts at sex appeal were pushed over the edge by the hot pink leopard upholstery on the gilt-edged chairs. Sally fingered the hems of gauzy teddies and flimsy robes. She settled on a red lace bra and thong set. Once inside the fitting room with the bra secured around her, she felt suffocated by her breasts. The sight of herself in the mirror sent a hot rush through her pelvis, but she was absolutely sure that her bust was being lifted up to her chin. The fluffy bow at the back of the thong was high enough on the waistband that it would peek out over her pants. She preferred less conspicuous underwear.
After an hour of browsing, she chose a carnation pink balconette with rhinestone straps. She took a taxi back home, swapping bras en route. Tim was still out returning his tux. She dug through the box with her delicates and fished out lacy white briefs. Satisfied with her find, she turned her attention to the box of shoes. She had in mind a pair of nude pumps, too tall to walk in, but perfect for sprawling across the bed as Tim walked into the apartment.
Tim, still waiting in line at the dry cleaner, felt his charitable mood waning. The woman at the front of the line, a petite plum colored figure with a poodle perm and a distinct lack of Rs in her vocabulary, was having difficulty understanding why Lionel wouldn’t take her fur coat – Jesus Christ, couldn’t he just turn it inside out to clean the lining? As the woman stomped away from the counter, chinchilla pelt in hand, Tim wondered what she was like in her youth. He imagined her to be much like Sally, with impatience and self-centeredness that were easily misread as zeal and poise.
To hell with the flowers.
ally turned her magazine this way and that to study the angles of a model luxuriating in a puffy white bed. As she stretched to imitate the pose, her vertebrae popped; she recoiled and brushed the magazine to the floor. There was no telling when Tim would be home. She could be splayed out like a boned duck for hours for all she knew. After admiring her shoes and the manicure she had gotten for yesterday’s wedding, she rummaged blindly through Tim’s nightstand. She groped around until she found what she wanted – a small velveteen bag that held a polished wood box.
Once upon a time, Tim was going to propose to Sally. He spent the check his parents had given him for graduation on an antique ring and squirrelled it away for the right moment. Over the years, moments came and went, and the box remained in the back of his nightstand drawer.
Whenever Tim wasn’t home, she liked to snoop through the drawer and pretend to be surprised by the ring. She would wear it around the apartment, sometimes turning the diamond in to face her palm, leaving the plain band exposed. In her mind, they had been married several times over; sometimes in a big church ceremony with him in a classic black suit and her in a frothy dress like an inverted cupcake; sometimes a quickie ceremony at City Hall before making a mad dash to the airport for their endless honeymoon in Paris or Tahiti. For all the imaginary weddings, she never wondered what the marriage itself would be like. Whenever her curiosity was piqued, she only had to look at the boxes littering the bedroom.
“Excuse me; can I get my life to-go?” She laughed at her own joke. The cat sauntered in and yawned. “Well I thought it was funny.”
The familiar skritching of a key in the lock signaled Tim’s return. All thumbs, Sally fumbled as she returned the ring to its hiding place. She breathed a quick sigh of relief when the drawer rolled shut before Tim approached the bedroom. She arranged herself on the bed, legs crossed, back arched, showing off her purchase. Tim eyed her up and down as he kicked his shoes into the closet. On any other woman, the bra would have been irresistible, but on Sally? No. He had grown immune to, and weary of, her displays. It seemed like every time a difficult conversation was brewing, she chose to skirt the issue by wearing something skimpy; granted, he did his part by falling into bed with her nearly every time.
Still, the bra itself was sexy and he could not deny that it suited her. Sally swung her legs up onto the bed and hooked a finger through Tim’s belt loop as he walked around the bed. He turned to face her; she fidgeted with the belt buckle until she could reach the zipper pull underneath. Before she had a chance to undo his pants, Tim knelt on the bed and fingered the glittering straps. The rhinestones were strung on a clear elastic band; one strong enough tug, and they could very well snap. He traced along the swell of her cleavage, leaving a Braille of goosebumps in his wake.
Sally worked her way down the line of buttons on Tim’s shirt until she reached his waistband. She wormed her hands under his white t-shirt and pulled him closer. He followed her lead, leaning forward to kiss her. She met his lips ferociously and writhed until she lay flat. He pressed himself against her, slowly passing his warm breath over the length of her torso. In the lamplight, he could just make out the gossamer trails of stretch marks on her inner thighs. He traced along the thickest of the silvery lines with his tongue, stopping just short of the white lace briefs. She pushed the waistband down toward her thighs, where he continued with his teeth.
Once the briefs were flung into a corner of the room, Tim tentatively ran a finger over the peach fuzz growing back from last week’s waxing session. The first time he had been disappointed in Sally was their second year in college, when he discovered that her sun-kissed blonde hair was the work of a master colorist. She took up waxing shortly thereafter. He lapped at the tender split between her legs, entering her only once. He savored the moist saltiness, but was repulsed by her heat and bitterness. He hoisted himself onto his knees and tumbled back to lean against the headboard; he whipped off his belt and pushed his pants just far enough down his thighs to expose his boxers.
Sally groaned. At best, Tim was a lackluster lover, but he had become selfish over the last year. She crawled across the bed and pawed at the front of his boxers. Not only a selfish lover, but unresponsive as well. She stroked the soft, cold spot until she felt him twitch under her palm. She sank back on her heels, the warm patent leather of her shoes tacky against her cold skin. Twisting herself into a hurried pretzel to reach her nightstand, she dug through the drawer for a condom. She came up empty-handed.
Tim grabbed her around the waist, his fingers sinking slightly into her dorsal softness. She knelt over him, arms draped over his shoulders. They made deep eye contact for the first time since he clenched her wrists to stop her from packing those goddamn boxes. He could fit both wrists in one hand in those days, she was so frail. Cohabitation had been good for Sally, especially her breasts, which now bounced prettily in the pink lace bra. The first few months they lived and cooked together, he pretended not to notice her morning routine of posing in front of the mirror and pinching at her hips and thighs. She was disgusted by the stretch marks that criss-crossed her milky skin, marking each ounce and centimeter of growth.
Sally felt a pinch as she lowered herself onto Tim’s half-hearted erection. It was a pinch she hadn’t felt since their first foray into sex, the pinch of a body saying no while a mouth said yes. She rocked herself slowly until he perked up inside of her. His hands slackened and dropped to her hips, barely touching her. She leaned forward to see if he was still awake, watching his nose and mouth for the first snuffle and grunt of feigned sleep. She stood tall on her knees and ruffled the hair on the back of his head. Her fingers breezed over a thinning patch amid the red, a fresh patina of sweat glistening against Tim’s naked scalp. He felt her breath against his head, his hands flying up to her shoulders and tearing at the back of her bra. His fingernails shredded the cheap lace as he crawled toward the clasp. He dug in, ripping at the fabric until he was able to pull the bra off her; he stared at her newly freed breasts hanging warm and doughy.
Unable to resist, he licked greedily at one nipple and pinched the other. The eager licks turned to exciting nibbles, then to hungry gnawing. Sally’s spine stiffened, extending the length of her body just enough for her breasts to escape Tim’s grasp. She slapped at his neck and shoulders, occasionally landing a blow against his ear.
He pulled her down, the move instantly recognized as mistake once her tailbone pounded against his pelvis. Tim lurched forward in pain and continued to push Sally back until she was lying down once again. He lowered himself on top of her, squirming until she parted her legs enough for him to fit. As he thrust into her, he heard the soft thunk of her skull against the upholstered headboard. The bed creaked wanly, suggesting he could work harder. He heaved forward once again, pleased with the wet sounds between them. Sally sighed, not out of deep contentment, but out of the kind of boredom one feels standing in line at the post office. Tim took offense to her palpable dissatisfaction and pushed until she let out a heavy thud and a scream.
Sally kicked Tim away, clutching the top of her head. The upholstery bore a deep impression from where her skull rammed through the plush stuffing and hit wood.
“God, fuck you!” Her voice trembled with shock. The flush drained from her cheeks, replaced with a ghastly whiteness. Her fingers scrambled over the crown of her head in a frantic search for blood. Her ears rang as she continued to curse Tim weakly.
Tim grunted in disgust as he pulled himself over to his side of the bed. He sat in silence as Sally massaged her temples and muttered to herself. He wrapped one arm around her waist and tried to guide her closer to him. She protested, squirming back to her side of the bed, but he yanked her backward until she landed against his hip. He loosened his grip around her midsection, his fingers weaseling between her legs. Sally felt every ridge of his fingerprints pass over her skin, and shuddered.
She hunched over until her elbows landed on the comforter, her arms wrapped around her still throbbing head. She bit her lip to stifle a sob, but felt two large tears run along the bridge of her nose and soak into the fabric. Tim’s free hand travelled along the ridge of her exposed back, running up and down her spine until he settled back at her hips. He pulled his other hand from inside her and held her still as he propped himself up behind her. She gasped with every slap of his skin against hers, the dry pinch of heartless sex forcing its way further into her core.
Tim’s panting gave way to the occasional deep snuffle and then ceased entirely. He let go of her hips, pushing slightly until her body crumpled. Two white-hot handprints ringed in red glared against her pale skin, crescent-shaped indentations where his nails had dug in like barbs. Sally’s breathing was shallow and slow, her eyes and fists squeezed shut. She rolled onto her side and curled her knees up to her chest.
Tim strode into the bathroom to wash up. In the mirror, he saw the pathetic ball of woman on the bed. The words he wanted to say to her – that naked bitch drenched in her own cowardice – rushed through his head. He could lean over her – the selfish little cunt – and let out twelve years of swallowed frustration; he could pick her up and drop her on the other side of the door right now if he wanted.
The open flap of Sally’s box of shoes scraped along his shin as he returned to the bedroom to collect his clothes. He yelped and kicked at the box with his heel. Sally curled up tighter on the bed, bracing herself for a second wave of Tim’s ire. She felt his hot breath along her neck as he leaned over her, one hand on either side of her tucked shoulders. A few gruff snorts and the light brush of his lips against the outermost shell of her ear, and he walked into the kitchen to make himself some coffee.